Champion Christmas tree grower

GRAYSON COUNTY, Va. - Even though it's just the first week of autumn, the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association has picked its grand champion tree for this year.

To no surprise, its from a Christmas tree farm high up on Whitetop in Grayson County.

Ribbons flutter in a cool breeze on the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Associations grand champion tree sitting in the front yard of grower Rodney Richardson.

But from 75 to 80 acres of Christmas trees, how does a grower bit his best for the contest? "You go out in the field and you try to find your prettiest tree to meet the criteria of the Virginia Tree Growers Association. You take it to the state convention and you set it up," Richardson says.

That sounds simple enough, but there's years of experience growing Christmas trees behind his decision. "We started, my wife and I started with this Christmas tree operation in 1980, so I guess that's about 32 years," he said.

And as for the judges, they too are Christmas tree growers with that special talent for finding just the right tree. "They look for color, they look for density, uniformity, lack of any kind of insects or disease," Richardson says.

Pretty much the same thing we look for in a tree, but come Christmastime Richardson will have to pick one of his trees as the governor's family tree. "We present the governor with their personal tree and we're looking real forward to that. My 16-year-old daughter and my 12-year-old son, my daughter, I think she'll really get a charge out of that," he said.

There's a certain amount of bragging rights that go along with the champion tree, but it's taken 10 to 12 years to grow these trees. It's a long time to wait for a harvest. "You've just got to be a farmer I guess. Farmers enjoy being a farmer. You take the good with the bad. You're really happy when things go good and if it goes bad you just start over," Richardson says.

But so far this year is starting to look like a great year for this Christmas tree farm.

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